Further Covid-19 restrictions on pubs, restaurants and coffee shops would have a disastrous effect on the economy, a hospitality industry chief has warned.
Colin Neill has called for greater clarity from the Executive over potential measures, including the threshold for introducing and removing stricter regulations and information on the financial package that will be made available to the ailing sector.
It comes after Northern Ireland's chief scientific advisor Professor Ian Young singled out the hospitality sector as an area where action may be required to try and bring the spiralling Covid-19 rate back under control.
He said: "Contacts in the hospitality sector tend to be closer and longer than contacts in many other settings, and in addition mitigation through the use of face coverings is generally not possible. Therefore these contacts are likely to be of higher risk than contacts in other settings. Alcohol consumption will also be a factor in failure to comply with social distancing."
Mr Neill, chief executive of Hospitality Ulster, said while the industry has worked hard to ensure it is as safe as possible, it is keen to work with scientific and medical experts to address any concerns they have about the potential for spread of the virus in premises.
He said the uncertainty over potential further measures, including the introduction of takeaway service only, further restrictions on customer numbers or total lockdowns, is creating additional pressure in the run-up to Christmas, when the sector generates a third of its annual income.
"The current situation is already unsustainable in the long-term so if any other measures are introduced, businesses are going to close and jobs are going to be lost. It will be a disaster," he said.
"The introduction of the curfew and the reduction on the number of households has already had an impact on the sector. It's not about breaking even, it's about keeping businesses going, but if a business was viable before all of this, then I think we should be looking after them because we're going to need them after this.
"Think about the long-term impact on tourism, a lot of these businesses, if they disappear, they won't be replaced and the tourism industry relies very heavily on them.
"The uncertainty about what's going to happen is very tough, do our members buy stock for next week, if they introduce a circuit breaker, will that come in at the end of the lockdown in Derry and Strabane? Then there's the ripple effect on the suppliers, the hospitality sector buys a third of all of Northern Ireland's agrifood produce, so if we shut, they go."